Have you ever worked on a maze? You know, the little puzzles where you have to navigate from the start to the end through a series of “forks in the road.” On occasion, I’ve had to start at the end of the maze, then work backward to find my way to the start. These thoughts, this post, came together sort of like that. So here it is…starting from the back.
$650 Billion is both a number I clearly understand and a number that I can’t possibly begin to comprehend. It’s also (according to the Outdoor Industry Association’s Outdoor Recreation Economy Report.) a reasonable estimation as to what we spend on outdoor recreation (camping, hunting, fishing, hiking, etc.) each year. The way I see it, it’s the amount of money we spend to escape our current life circumstances.
Just “getting away from it all.”
Think about that number again; $650 Billion. I know that every night on TV we hear newscasters throwing around the words “billion” and “trillion” like it’s loose-change that we found in the cushion of our sofa, but $650 Billion is a ton of money. To be more accurate, at 1 gram per $1 bill, it’s 710,000 tons of money. Visualize stacks of $100 bills (cuz we all have stacks of $100 bills lying around, right?). If you were to stack up $650 billion in $100 bills the stack would reach the very tip of the spire on the top of the Empire State Building…1,584 times…every year. That’s $100 bills!
So what! So we like to hike and camp and hunt and fish! What about it?
Yes, clearly we do; myself included (less the hunting and fishing on my end). But while I was thinking about our desire to “get away from it all,” our propensity to need to escape, I found myself thinking,
“Why do we spend so much money…getting away from the life that we worked our entire lives to create.”
To add insult to injury, the earlier mentioned Outdoor Industry report does not include our vacations! It’s not that trip to Hawaii, or to Disney World. It’s only the, “Let’s just pack the tent, the ice-chest, the Coleman stove, and head off for a few days.” kinds of getaways.
Sincerely though, doesn’t it sound nice; getting away from it all? Even just for a single night? Hasn’t that idea almost become cliche? I’ve said it myself, countless times, “Man! It’s gonna be so nice to just get away for a few days; to reconnect with the family; to reset, and to find some peace.”
So here’s the elephant in the room: Get away from what?
What is so bad in our day-to-day lives that we ignore the moment we’re in anticipation of getting away from it? So now I find myself questioning the entire idea. Not the getting away part, I’m questioning the lifestyles that we’ve worked so painstakingly to create.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the creature comforts of suburban America. I really do. I’m all about takin’ a hot bath, then falling into the sofa with a blanket and the remote. It’s so nice, but at what cost?
If you live in the US, most of us spend, at an absolute minimum, 13 years of our lives in school (K-12). For many of us, it’s 17 years: K-12, plus college. For a few of us, it goes far, far beyond that, into multiple years of Graduate and Post-Graduate work. All of this cost, energy, and effort with the sole intention of achieving that “American Dream.”
So after 17 or 20 years of school, we finally earn that dream job, doing something we love. We get married, then we buy a house and a new car. Then we’re off to the races! As a society, we repeat that process, generation after generation, because..um…’cuz…well, because that’s what we do! At least that we do if we’re lucky.
We, seemingly unconsciously but incessantly, update and upgrade and replace what we already have. We buy bigger TVs, new kitchen cabinets, a bigger car, a smaller car, or maybe a “money-saving” electric car. Then, if we’re really “succeeding,” we almost immediately start planning a vacation; our next get-away.
We’ve only just started our lives and our families and we already need to get away from it all. There’s something inside that’s telling us to get away from that new TV, the new kitchen cabinets, and even that gorgeous German sport-sedan in the driveway. The one with that “New-Car smell.” Why do we keep buying and working and buying and working?
In the book, A New Earth, I read one of the most thought-provoking things I’ve ever read. Eckhart Tolle writes, “The ego wants to want more than it wants to have.” Think about that for a moment. Our egos love to want. They love the anticipation of whatever it is that we don’t yet have. I know that feeling well. With two teenage sons, I see it and hear it every day. The excitement and anticipation of that new video game or those new basketball shoes is like a drug that our egos are addicted to.
This idea is an incredibly uncomfortable truth that illustrates the fact that the rush of joy that we feel when we buy a new TV or a new car or book our next family road-trip is always fleeting and temporary.
But our egos are winning the battle. Our egos are writing the checks…but our bodies, minds, and spirits are strapped with the burden of paying for its quick fix.
Too many times I’ve watched vibrant, passionate, loving, and hard-working young professionals wishing their weeks and months away in hopes that their obligatory two-weeks off correspond with the two-weeks that their spouses get off. Oh…and then hope it all coincides nicely with a time when the kids will be out of school.
Have we, in spite of massive and concerted efforts, taken the wrong path? Are we stuck in some sort of developmental karmic loop? Is it “Monkey see, monkey do?” Are we doing what we do because it’s what we see and what we’ve seen? I don’t think so.
I, with all of who I am, believe that we do all of it, tirelessly and thanklessly, because we’ve not been taught that there’s another way. Stephen R. Covey, the author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, wrote, “If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, then every step we take just gets us to the wrong place…faster.”
From my viewpoint, where many of us find ourselves, individually and collectively, can’t be as fantastic as we were promised. If it is, why do we daydream about (and spend billions of dollars each year) leaving it in the rearview mirror?
I think that’s it. That’s the question that I’m struggling with. Have we become incredibly efficient at…accumulating stuff? Have we, albeit unwittingly and with the very best of intentions, completely lost our focus on what actually matters? Are we allowing, in fact encouraging, the simplest of joys to elude us while we work our backsides off in pursuit of temporarily satisfying our egos insatiable appetites? Have we been brainwashed by marketing moguls? Are we that sheepish? That naive?
In the meantime, we repeatedly put a tiny fraction of what we’ve worked so hard to accumulate into a suitcase, only packing “what we need,” then pay thousands or tens of thousands of dollars to leave everything else behind?
For 45 years, I was guilty as charged. Now, because my boys’ wellness depends on it, I’m breaking that cycle. I want to be outside. I want to see the world. I want to experience new cultures and learn new points of view. I want to leave it all behind. In fact, I want to leave it all on the shelves at the big box stores where it belongs. I don’t want more stuff anymore. I want more life.
I don’t know where the original idea came from, I adopted this idea from The Minimalists (Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus). It goes something like this:
The most important things…aren’t things.
Is a more minimal lifestyle in my family’s near future? It sure feels like it…and it feels right.